It's PPM Day (that's how we may start referring to it), as monthly numbers roll out for August in the PPM current and pre-current markets. If you're in one of these major cities, you're getting used to receiving weekly numbers on Mondays, and monthlies on Wednesday.
The cruelest day of all will be December 31st, when my hometown - Detroit - gets its first current PPM ratings report. So think about that - New Year's Eve, and the first set of PPM "currency" ratings, and they cover the Christmas music period. It sounds like something that Kwame Kilpatrick put together via text messaging.
But I digress. The newest kerfuffle with PPM revolves around minority broadcasters first going to the FCC, and now New York's Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, to "investigate" the fairness of the ratings." AG Cuomo is actually subpoenaing Arbitron - as if the ratings company is deliberately trying to produce biased ratings. Isn't there anything more important going on in New York - maybe something to do with gas gouging, foreclosures, public schools, or something along those lines?
And what's next? Call in the FBI? Mark Ramsey has nicely covered the lunacy of the government getting involved in Arbitron ratings in his blog. But I'm sure that many broadcasters are wondering why they didn't take legal action during all those bounces, anomalies, "blizzard books," and sampling glitches that we see year after year in the diary system.
Many years ago when Pierre Bouvard first came back to Arbitron, he invited me to speak - from a "real world" radio perspective - to a group of Arbitron customer reps. I told them that at the station level, Arbitron was positioned as the IRS - a necessary evil that makes your life crazy every thirty days. And when I was asked why broadcasters get so testy when they get a lousy Arbitrend, I reminded them that these calls are often a product of frustration, pressure, and angst - all totally understandable. And has anyone ever called Arbitron when they got a "kiss" in a trend or a book to complain about poor sample sizes or odd zip code distribution?
Of course not. The system is the system. Alternative and youth-based stations are getting screwed because of the cell phone only sampling problem. But they haven't pushed for a Congressional investigation. They have, however, lobbied Arbitron, worked through the Advisory Council, and have made their opinions known. Same with all those Rock stations who have suffered with 18-34 male proportionality issues.
Radio, as an industry, continues to broadcast to the world that we're small-time, petty, and not unified. Radio is like a network of tribal groups, few of whom are ever on the same page. Instead of continuing to divide the business, and communicate to advertisers that we're not ready for prime time, more industry initiatives like "Buy From FM" are welcome. Nine major broadcasters coming together to make tagging available on Microsoft Zunes is the type of innovation - and messaging - that radio needs.